Homily of 28 January 2018
Deuteronomy 18,15-20; 1 Corinthians 7,32-35; Mark 1,21-28
The Chinese discovered gunpowder and invented ways of using it not only to fend off enemies in war but also to ward off evil spirits in rituals and festivities. To welcome the new year they don’t just light up the sky with colorful fireworks. They also light up firecrackers that do not just crackle but really explode. All this to ward off evil and usher in a grace-filled new year, literally with a bang!
In the Gospel according to Mark, the public ministry of Jesus starts with the expulsion of the unclean spirit, not with a bang, but by a powerful command: “Be quiet! Come out of him!” And the people recognized this. At once they were astonished at how the Lord Jesus teaches with authority unlike the Scribes and even has power over unclean spirits.
This inaugural miracle in the public ministry of Jesus is a sort of an overture. It gives a glimpse of the direction that Mark takes to present the ministry of Jesus: to bring the Good News of the Kingdom by liberating the people from the oppression of physical and spiritual bondage by the evil one. Thus, after choosing his Apostles, Jesus gives them power over evil spirits and sends them off to cast out demons.
But is it not interesting that people and religious leaders don’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God, but the evil spirit does? People tend to notice only the message but the evil spirit sees the messenger. Without recognizing the messenger, how can the power of the message be effectively delivered? To discredit the messenger, the message also crumbles. Jesus is both the message and the messenger. He is the Incarnate Word of God. Who He is lends power to what He says and does. Jesus is the Good News in person!
Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophetic figure promised by God in the First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, “I will raise up a prophet and I will put my words into his mouth.”
No wonder, people sense that Jesus exudes authority. He teaches both in word and deed. But authority does not only mean power. There are several suggested etymologies of the word ‘authority’. One is that it comes from the Latin word ‘augere’ which means ‘to increase’. As such, to have authority is not just to have power to make people do what one wants them to do, but to empower people, to enable them to transcend themselves, to grow as persons, to be more effective in developing and using their innate gifts.
In the Second Reading, this is what we hear about Paul’s ministry in exhorting the Corinthian Christians to free themselves from the anxieties of their state of life, to adhere to Christ without distraction. As Fr. Joe so wonderfully led us in reflection yesterday, the Lord calls us and empowers us to have greater faith in him. That is the authority of Jesus Christ over us. He exhorts and at the same time empowers us to greater faith in Him.
Our contemporary world indeed presents a wide range of possible sources for anxiety. There is a decision to make in everything at every moment from sunrise to sundown. So, the challenge is not just to heed Paul’s words that we free ourselves from worries but also to be Paul to one another, to be concerned for the wellbeing of one another. And this is to let the Lord exercise His authority over us, to allow not only his words but truly his presence to give us peace and to empower us.
How did the unclean spirit recognize Jesus at once as the Holy One of God but not as easily by the people? It is a spiritual encounter, the unclean spirit sensed beyond the physical presence of Jesus. We are embodied spiritual beings, we too can truly encounter the Lord in our spirit. Only then can we also fully experience the power of the authority of Jesus in our lives. We too will be astonished at how we are empowered by our faith in Jesus to transcend our everyday experiences into moment to moment encounters with Him no matter what happens. The Lord enables us to recognize his blessings behind what seems fearful or even failures. Only then shall we transcend mourning in death and rejoice at the reality of the fullness of life in eternity, and be compassionate to others despite our own struggles and needfulness.
We don’t need to light firecrackers to ward off what frightens or weakens or enslaves us. Now we know how the system works. It is only with Jesus that we can overcome evil. And the Lord calls on us to be his collaborators in this mission of driving away evil in welcoming the Kingdom of God and so let all enjoy his love and compassion.